Tag Archives: Art and architecture.

TO THE POINT.

  Sunderland Point is cut off twice a day by the tide, I double-check the tables before venturing forth today on my cycle. High tide is 12noon, so I can have a lazy start — don’t I always. My plan is to arrive at the coast after lunch, when the tide should be receding.

In the18th century Sunderland between Morecambe bay and the Lune was a busy port and ship building yard, with ships sailing to Africa and the West Indies. Cotton, sugar, rum, timber and the slave trade, it’s main stay.  When wharves in Lancaster and Glasson Dock developed Sunderland’s trade finished. Many of the houses found here were originally warehouses associated with the port. In time, the point became known as Cape Famine. The hamlet’s two pubs, cargo warehouses, rope and block makers, customs house and shop have long gone. But in Victorian times it found a lifeline as a holiday and bathing resort, Little Brighton,   But holidaymakers eventually preferred the bustling new seaside resort of Morecambe, with its smart buildings and multitude of attractions. Sunderland Point became the sleepy, out-of-the-way place it is today.

I park up at Halton bridge once again, unload my bike and take to the old rail line. There is something wrong — a strange noise coming from my pedals with each revolution. I stop to try to identify the source. Along comes a tattooed, long-haired ageing hippy on his city bike, “what’s the problem, mate?” His probable diagnosis was lack of lubrication. I stand there looking hopeless as he suggests going to his nearby flat to pick up the necessary tools and oils to solve my problem. In a few minutes he is back, we dismantle the left pedal and apply some much-needed oil. I can’t thank him enough. A good Samaritan has uplifted my mood for the day. I pedal off, relieved and immensely grateful.

The Millennium Bridge in the centre of Lancaster is looking stunning in the sunshine.

Easy pedalling has me into Morecambe in no time. The views across the bay to the Lakeland Hills are so much clearer than the other day. I arrive at the information board for the Way of the Roses, a 170-mile ride to Bridlington — now there’s an idea.

The promenade takes me to Heysham and onwards towards the docks. I thought I had spotted a lane going towards Middleton, but ended up in a massive caravan park under the two nuclear power stations. A friendly dog walker told me of a footpath out of the site onto Carr Lane. I found it and escaped onto the coastal lanes to Potts Corner. The end of the road on the edge of Morecambe Bay.

Holiday heaven.

Escape.

The tide was going out as I chatted to a fellow cyclist on a day out from Settle, I’m almost becoming one of the inner circle of cyclists. A kestrel hovers overhead. In the distance, a ferry was heading for the Isle of Man. Vast open spaces.

Some soggy, muddy and saline riding and pushing on a vague track led me towards Sunderland Point.

I arrive at the site of Sambo’s grave on this windswept peninsula. ‘Sambo’, a generic name, had arrived at the Point in 1736, a cabin boy. Probably abandoned, the little African boy perished in the port’s brewhouse.  Deprived of burial in consecrated ground, his body was interred in this field, overlooking the sea. A local man wrote a verse about him 60 years after his death, which is on a plaque on the grave. The grave is regularly visited and is festooned with messages and mementos.  A memorial to the slave trade.

  A wall has been built around the grave and it doesn’t seem to have the desolate atmosphere I remember from my last visit. This is further diminished by nearby structures — a wooden bird hide and an art installation, Horizontal Line Chamber, a camera obscura by Chris Drury.

https://chrisdrury.co.uk/horizon-line-chamber-sunderland-point-morecambe-bay/   is worth a read with its attached YouTube video.

I entered the stone igloo and managed this image for you, an upside down coastal horizon.  A narrow lane leads to the village of Sunderland. A man is working on the old pub’s brewhouse where ‘Sambo’ supposedly died. The pub itself stands on the edge of the harbour, its present owner sitting outside gave me all the history. A line of stone pillars denoting the extent of the wharf. Of course with the tide being out one doesn’t get the full impact of this having been an important  port.

I go along to the southerly terrace of houses which have been converted from former warehouses. Farther on is Sunderland Hall built by a Robert Pearson, a date stone states 1683.  I should have dumped my bike here and walked to the actual point — next time. A good excuse to return to this unique place, there is much more to explore.

Across the water is Plover Light guiding ships into the Lune. Built in 1847 it was lit by paraffin lights until the 1950s when it became fully automated. There is a Pathé News clip of a Mrs Parkinson, the then light keeper in 1948, going about her duties.

https://www.britishpathe.com/video/lighthouse-1

In 2016 it was badly damaged by a passing ship, the light had to be removed whilst reconstructing the stone base took place.  I remember seeing it in its truncated form from Cockersand Abbey in that October with the light housing on the beach…

The afternoon was passing and it was time to ride across the muddy causeway back to the ‘mainland’. The mud flats on either side have an eerie appearance   Once off the marsh I cycle into the little village of Overton, past the historic Ship Hotel and on to find St. Helen’s Church. It is on a hill south of the village, looking out over the Lune and Glasson Dock. Originally 12th century, it has had several restorations and alterations, but retains its Norman doorway.   A signed cycleway alongside the Lune avoided the rush hour traffic. I pass the Snatchems Inn where in the past youths were plied with drink and then ‘snatched’ as crew for the sailing ships leaving the port in Lancaster. When they sobered up they would be halfway to Africa. It is now called the Golden Ball and looks in a sorry state.  In the fading light I catch an unusual view of Ingleborough.

Interestingly, as I approach the Millennium bridge in Lancaster on the far side of the Lune was the wharf, warehouses, and Customs Office of the old Lancaster port, St George’s Quay, which put an end to Sunderland’s prosperity.

I have really enjoyed the peace and relative remoteness of Sunderland Point today, an antidote to our modern hectic lives. Oh! And my pedal was silent and stayed on to the end of the 25 miles.

*****

There are some dramatic YouTube drone videos of this windswept coast with the tides in and out. Such as…

*****

Today’s route –

BRING ME SUNSHINE.

    I hadn’t intended to come to Heysham but the day seemed suited to exploration. I had parked up again at Halton station and cycled into Lancaster on the old line, as I did last week on my trip to Glasson and beyond. My plan today was to continue on the 69 cycle way into Morecambe and then explore the coast northwards. I was soon crossing the Lune on the Millennium Bridge and then taking another old railway line, still cycle route 69, westwards. Two thirds along here I noticed a marked turning perhaps towards Heysham and on a whim diverted off onto what must have been a branch line of the railway. I was now in the hands of the sign setter. At first, I was on a cycleway between horse paddocks, but then I was directed into suburban streets, thankfully traffic free. Signs were followed until I lost them, and then I followed my nose into the inevitable cul-de-sac in Higher Heysham. A bit of backtracking and then a bit of the main road past the C16th Old Hall Inn down to the ferry terminal.  Not the best way into Heysham.

At last the sea was now in sight. The road came to an abrupt end, but I was able to cycle through on a rough path to arrive at Half Moon Bay where there was a café, but every seat was taken. An advantage of cycling over walking is that it is easy to continue on to the next source of refreshment, though that didn’t quite work out.

Half Moon Bay.

Onwards and I found myself in Heysham Village. Lots of quaint alleyways, I remember from years ago a house selling potted Morecambe Bay shrimps, but couldn’t see it today. Soon I’m alongside St. Peter’s Church. It is thought that a church was founded on this site in the 7th or 8th century. Some of the fabric of that church remains in the present church. In the graveyard is an Anglo-Saxon cross and a stone grave. A track goes up onto Heysham Head to the ruined C8th St. Patrick’s Chapel. Most people come here to view the ‘stone tombs’ — a group of six rock-cut tombs and a separate group of two rock-cut tombs. Each tomb has an associated socket, probably intended for a timber cross. I have to say that today with a perfect blue sky and clear views they were magical.

  I found my way back onto the promenade around Morecambe Bay. Views across the water to the Lakeland Fells held my attention as I approached the West End of Morecambe. I was soon alongside the 1930s art deco Midland Hotel. Somewhere along here is the proposed site of the Eden Project North, which is expected to bring back prosperity to this ageing seaside resort. I’d never been down the ‘stone jetty’ to the old lighthouse, it was along here that a fellow blogger described what she thought was the ugliest sculpture, I’m inclined to agree with her.

  Also on the jetty is a bell that only rings at certain high tides. This bell is one of several around the coast of Britain  connecting us with our maritime heritage and a timely reminder of climate change. https://timeandtidebell.org/#

Bay surging, channels filling, sun setting, I ring, I sing. Listen in.”  written by the local artist community is going to be engraved onto the bell.   I must come back one day at high tide.

   The promenade is wide all along the front so cycling was possible without endangering the crowds enjoying views. I don’t stop at every attraction, I came this way back in 2109 whilst walking A Lancashire Monastic Way, but I have to visit Eric Morecambe’s statue on a sunny day like this.   

Commander C G Forsberg. Master Mariner and Marathon Swimmer.

 

  From time to time I stop and gaze across the water to the Lakeland silhouettes and as I round the Bay, Arnside Knott and Grange become more prominent. “Best view in Britain” one of the locals tells me. I knew of a café at the far end of the promenade where I thought I would get a snack, but time had flown, it was now 3.30 and they had closed.

   The main road had to be used to enter Hest Bank where I found a garage that sold coffee and pies. I sat outside, still enjoying the warm sunshine. It’s always a mistake to ask a local motorist for directions when you are walking or cycling. ‘Go down the road until the traffic lights‘ – no mention of how far that is. ‘Follow the signs to Slyne and at the T-junction turn left to Halton’. After the lights half a mile away, I ended up on the busy A6, there wasn’t a T-junction and I was almost back to the garage where I started. At least I was on higher ground and had a good run down over the M6 into Halton, with the Bowland Fells in the background, and over the narrow bridge to my car, the last in the car park.

  There may not be many more days like this as Autumn draws in — bring me sunshine any day.

 

*****

SOIXANTE NEUF.

    I thought I’d give this post a sexy title to boost readership. Not that I look at all sexy in my fading Lycra cycling shorts. There should be an age limit for appearing in public wearing Lycra, and whatever it is I am long past it.

  I’ve driven up the motorway, coming off at Junction 36 and found the narrow lane leading down to a car park at the redundant Halton station. This is on the old Morecambe to  Wennington line which closed under The Beeching Act in 1966.  Route 69 of the National Cycle Network connects Hest Bank on Morecambe Bay with Cleethorpes on the East coast and uses this section of line from Morecambe to Caton.  Off I pedal westwards on the 69 into Lancaster. The River Lune is mainly hidden and I don’t recognise much until the Millennium Bridge where the 69 crosses the river. I’m heading to Glasson Dock, so I stay on the south side of the water. There seem to be a multitude of cycle paths in Lancaster and just following my nose I end up under the castle with the priory church looking down on me. A few streets later and I find my way back to the river which is not looking its best, the tide is out exposing lots of mud. I’ll locate the correct way next time.

Halton station.


Soixante neuf.


Under the M6.

The canal aqueduct.


The new Greyhound and Millennium Bridges.


Priory church — getting lost.


Lost.

   Eventually I’m safely on the old railway track heading to Glasson. Lots of cyclists are using this route, I keep leapfrogging various parties as we go at different speeds, and I’m frequently stopping to take pictures of the Lune estuary. I have walked this stretch in the past when I was connecting a Lancaster Monastic Way. It is interesting to contrast walking a route and cycling it. One misses the little details as you ride by and although everyone says hello there is no chance to chat, that is until you reach a café and then can delve into gears and stems. As I don’t know one stem from another, I avoid the busy cyclists’ rendezvous at Glasson and cross over to the little shop which has freshly baked pies and good coffee. Here I can talk to the mature couples who have motored here for a good old-fashioned afternoon out. And of course there are the fishermen with their ready tales of yesterday’s catch.

Glasson across the marshes.

Up the creek?


Lost forever.


Smell that coffee.


Pike?

   A lot of the cyclists head back the way they came, but I’m in for exploring different options that I’ve spotted on the map. So off I go along the rough narrow track, you couldn’t call it a towpath, alongside the Glasson Branch Canal to meet up with the Lancaster Canal. Ahead are the Bowland Hills, looking splendid in today’s sunshine. An easy option would be to follow the canal back to Lancaster, but I’ve walked that stretch many times.

The Glasson Branch

Endless games of fetch the stick.


Junction with the Lancaster Canal.

  So again I go my own way again, threading through Galgate and onto lanes crossing the motorway and leading into the hills. There is only one bit I have to walk up, and then I’m onto the lovely high level road to the scattered houses of Quernmore. From up here are views across Morecambe Bay to the Lakeland Fells with the Bowland hills rubbing at my right shoulder. I sweep down past the isolated Quernmore  church and on to the entrance to Quernmore Estate at Postern Gate which I recognise from our  ‘trespass’ on the straight line from my house to Sir Hugh’s in Arnside.  I daren’t risk cycling through today so I take the busy road down to Caton and am soon back onto  that rail line  — Route 69.

Lancaster University, Morecambe Bay and Black Coombe.

Grit Fell.


Quernmore Church.

Postern Gate — tempted.


Down to Caton.

  This last section back to Halton is impressive by dint of passing over two viaducts above the Crook Of Lune built in 1849 to carry the railway. This is a popular spot today with tourists, walkers and cyclists. There are stunning views up the Lune towards Hornby Castle and Ingleborough. Turner’s painting of the scene, pre railways, shows  the original Penny Bridge carrying a road. This road bridge was rebuilt in 1889 and stands just below the East Viaduct. A long stretch in trees with little sight of the river has me back at Halton Station.

Eastern viaduct.

The Lune valley eastwards.

Crook of Lune road bridge.


Western viaduct.

Halton Bridge.

I go down to the river near the wrought iron lattice bridge built in 1911 from the remains of the Original Greyhound Bridge in Lancaster. Sitting quietly in the sunshine, contemplating the slow flow of water before hitting the motorway. I didn’t need that sexy title  — this landscape has no need of titillation.

*****

A RURAL RIDE FROM LONGRIDGE.

  Not a footpath in sight, not a stile climbed, not a fell summited, and you will be pleased to hear not a church visited. Oh! Well, maybe just one. My heel is playing up just when the weather is bucking up. Not to be defeated, I drag my bike out of the garage and do a few short rides around Longridge. So today I was ready for a longer ride. Out to Bashall Eaves, Cow Ark, Chipping, Whitechapel and back, about 29 miles (47 km) or so.

  Cycling brings a different aspect to one’s locality. No flowers to identify, no birds to watch, no passing conversations. Just the tarmac ahead and that steep ascent looming. Today I concentrate on the inns that I pass, past and present. In the Ribble Valley and Bowland we have been lucky to have had an excellent selection of quality establishments. Rural inns have a long pedigree, their names tell us much of the local history. Unfortunately the country inn has suffered from economic pressures and several hostelries have bitten the dust.  Covid has had a serious effect on the hospitality business.

    On my corner is the Alston Arms, now The Alston which has had several reincarnations since its establishment in 1841. It has survived the COVID lockdowns and  seems as busy as ever with locals, a large outside seating area has helped. Strange that I have not visited since over two years ago, when it was the favourite venue of my friend developing Alzheimer’s disease. She always ordered the same — fish, chips and mushy peas. And they were good!

  The second one encountered on the road is the Derby Arms, recently reopened after a period under a fish franchise, The Seafood Pub Company,  It looked open today for lunch, so all is well, hopefully. The area around here was part of the Derby Estate. The Stanley Family, Earls of Derby, established lands in Thornley here, hence the pub’s name.

  Along the way through Chaigley I pass the former Craven Heifer Hotel. The Craven Heifer became a popular pub name, particularly in the Craven area, so I don’t know how one popped up in Bowland. This hotel was a regular eating place at the end of the last century, it closed Christmas Eve 2008. Since then, it has been a private residence.

  On the way down to the Hodder I passed these gates which are normally locked. Today they were open, and I had a quick peep into their lands, with a lake and a large house in view. No idea who lives here. Chadswell Hall.

  I stopped off at the Higher Hodder Bridge, the river was as low as I’ve seen for a while. Just up the road is the former Higher Hodder Hotel. This was another hotel with a long period of serving good food and ales. It became well known to the fishermen casting in the Hodder below. I noticed on an old photograph a petrol pump in its forecourt, those days are long gone. Its demise came in 2001 with a severe fire from the kitchen. Bought by a local businessman and converted into apartments. It still has problems with erosion from below where the Hodder flows, undermining the banks. One day it may all fall into the river.

  At the next crossroads I knew of an ancient milestone but had never stopped to investigate, Today I had a good look at it. There was lettering on two sides with mileages.  On the West face  To Preston 10M. To Gisburn M8. On the North face
To Lancaster 16M. To Whalley M3.  1766. It turns out that this is Grade II listed.

  The next pub is the Red Pump in Bashall Eaves. This had been closed for some time when it was resurrected by the present owners in 2014, who turned it into a ‘gastropub’ with accommodation including recently added Glamping Yurts and Shepherd Huts.  I notice that it has restricted opening hours, so calling in for a pint is not always possible. The pub has a connection to a murder mystery  that was never solved.

  Some serious pedalling has to be done climbing the road towards Browsholme Hall who have got in on the café scene. No time to visit today. On through the strangely named hamlet of Cow Ark and soon I’m freewheeling down the road which follows the line of the Roman Road from Ribchester to Carlisle and back over the Hodder at Doeford Bridge.

  The Gibbon Bridge Hotel is a little farther on and has a history only going back to 1982 when the family diversified from farming to catering. Over the years the hotel has grown and particularly in recent times with the focus on weddings. They still do a good lunch in the dining room, with magnificent views over the gardens and Chipping Vale.

  Chipping at one time had three pubs in the village. The Talbot has been closed  for years and is looking in a sorry state. Opposite, the Tillotson’s is now open again but has annoyingly random hours, they were missing trade today as lots of tourists were wandering around the quaint village.

  The Sun has had a renaissance and is now thriving both as a locals’ drinking pub and a reliable eatery. It is reputedly the most haunted pub in Lancashire.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aA1MZp3WYdI  I couldn’t resist a wander around the churchyard looking for Lizzie Dean’s gravestone.

  The Cobbled Corner Café has not reopened — it was a favourite with cyclists.

   The Dog and Partridge just outside the village dates from the 16th century but closed in 2018 and is up for sale for residential development. Sign of the times.

  I now head out to Whitechapel on narrow lanes under the shadow of Beacon Fell, When I first came to this area in the early seventies a curiosity was the Cross Keys Inn run by a farming family. It had irregular hours depending on work on the farm, a quirky bar, a good pool table. Late night sessions were common. At times, if the landlord was busy elsewhere, there was an honesty box for the drinks you had consumed. The inn was known, tongue in cheek, as The Dorchester! It closed over a decade ago but was bought by a local builder who has restored it along with accommodation units and has recently reopened it. Again, as the case with many of these rural pubs they are not open every day, particularly at the beginning of the week, but it is good to see it trading and I’ve promised myself a pint there soon.

   Down the road is yet another Lancashire village, Inglewhite, centred on a village green and a cross. The pub here is called The Green Man and has a date stone of 1809. Green Men go back to pagan times and are a fairly common inn name — the sign here depicts a typical Green Man. This pub has been closed off and on for several years, reflecting the difficulties of successfully running a rural inn. Let’s hope it stays open for the foreseeable future. It was not open today!

Homeward-bound now with tiring legs, I pass the last rural pub — Ye Horns Inn. An 18th century listed building that closed four years ago. It had been run as a family business for decades, famous for its Goosnargh Roast Duck reared down the road, and its unique wooden panelled snug located behind the bar. New owners have developed the site with residential properties, but hope to reopen the pub soon. I await with bated breath. Another unique feature here is the men’s urinal across the road from the pub. Not sure how many drunken patrons were run down on this precarious crossing.

  It is strange that my trip around all these rural inns didn’t involve any alcohol intake but as you saw several are closed for good, others concentrate on dining and others have limited opening. With a bit of organisation and forward planning, a right good pub cycle could be achieved around the eight trading pubs— but whether it would be legal or safe to ride a bike at the end of it would be debatable.

LAST DAY ON THE TWO SAINTS WAY.

Cannock to Lichfield.      7 miles.

  My B&B host gives me a lift back to the Ring Circle Fort, and I’m on my way, downhill to Lichfield.  One was supposed to be able to see the cathedral from up here, but low cloud prevented that. There was good walking up on Gentleshaw Common and then old tracks through woods to come out onto quiet lanes to sleepy Chorley.

Back into the fields I came to Farewell Hall and the Church of St. Bartholomew built on the site of a priory.

For the next two miles I walked along the ancient Cross In Hand Lane, so named from the wooden cross pilgrims would hold as they approached St Chad’s Well. This lane was a joy to walk, in places hewn out between sandstone banks and in others with mature hedges. A scattering of farms were passed along the way, and at the bottom of the last hill a cave reputedly used by Medieval candle sellers to pilgrims.

Medieval cave?

Lichfield was entered alongside the old Pinfold, which has been recently restored.

The house belonging to Erasmus Darwin, the Physician and naturalist and Charle’s grandfather, is now a museum in the shadow of the cathedral. The man himself was looking out of a window. There are many fine houses in Lichfield which is worth a longer visit.

At last the three unique towers of Lichfield Cathedral were seen as I approached the magnificent entrance. A Saxon church was built here to house the bones of St Chad, to be replaced by a Norman Cathedral, the present Gothic structure dates from the 13th and 14th centuries.  One walks down the beautifully vaulted nave, through the chancel and there in front of you is the shrine of St. Chad.

Behind in the Lady Chapel are the famous Herkenrode stained-glass windows rescued from Belgium. St. Chads Head Chapel was closed to the public.

Two relics related to St Chad were on display —  The Lichfield Angel,  a beautiful limestone carving from the chest that contained his bones. The 8th century St. Chad Gospels, from which St Chads cross emblem was derived.

Leaving the Cathedral I notice the statue of St Chad by local sculptor Peter Walker  recently installed in the grounds. He looks a kindly man. The south door is every bit as good as the main one,

I then wander alongside the lake, Stowe Pool originally a 12th century millpond and fishery, to reach St Chad’s Church and Well and my final interpretation board!  When St. Chad arrived in Lichfield, 669, he baptised converts at a local spring and founded a monastery. He was buried here in 672 but his bones moved the Cathedral when it was built in 700. The present day church is mainly from the 14th century with many more recent modifications. Nearby is the Well which has been popular as a pilgrimage place, at one time surrounded by arched walls but now by a simple wooden structure. I’m not sure that the water is very pure.

My journey had come to an end, I have learnt a lot and experienced a good mixture of rural and urban scenery. The route was well thought out in that respect. The churches have been inspiring and whatever your religious views they are beautiful buildings and how well we preserve the past in Britain. The problem of churches being closed occurs anywhere nowadays. The guide book is well written and informative, the instructions are clear. There was no shortage of accommodation (putting my Crewe faux pas aside) or dining possibilities, although Covid precautions are still affecting the latter. As usual, I met relatively few people walking any distance, and only four on The Two Saints Way. I covered 90 miles from Chester to Lichfield, but I have to say I was relieved to know I could now rest my heel for a few days. There has been constant background pain all week, which at times distracted me from my surroundings — I was beginning to feel like a real pilgrim towards the end and possibly should have dipped my foot in St. Chads Well.

*****

DAY SIX ON THE TWO SAINTS WAY.

Stone to Stafford.      11 miles.

*****

  I enjoy a leisurely breakfast, this should be a short day. Another gel pad is added to my right heel, I’m beginning to walk on high heels.

It didn’t take me long to get back onto the way at St. Saviour’s churchyard in Aston. In the porch of the church I noticed a cockerel mounted above the door. Its interesting history was noted..

Behind hedges and walls across the lane is Aston Hall, now a home for retired priests. It was here in 1839 that the bones of St. Chad were found, having been hidden at the time of  the Reformation. They are now strangely in Birmingham Cathedral rather than the more obvious Lichfield. A lady dog walking told me how she discovered many of the local paths around here during lockdown and had noticed the TSW markers. I enjoyed a long stretch through fields with open atmospheric skies, just what you need to put a spring in your step in the morning.

I  then entered a watery nature reserve. A man birdwatching was eager to tell me of a large bull blocking the path at the next stile. He had taken evasive action and clambered along the banks of the stream, he was in no hurry to return. Forewarned, I proceeded carefully and sure enough the bull was lying there with his herd of cows. I never know which breeds are allowed in fields with public footpaths, and I probably wouldst recognise them anyhow. A bull is a bull whichever breed and this was a large one. I couldn’t see any obvious escape route, so I stood and watched for a while before tiptoeing cautiously past against my better judgment. I’m alive to tell the tale.

Burston village was across the canal, a few cottages surrounding a millpond, delightful. Behind and strangely adjoined to the last cottage was a little chapel, St. Rufin’s. (he of the legend)  It is thought there has been a church in this vicinity visited by pilgrims since the Middle Ages.

A peaceful stretch of canal was now followed  with boat owners relaxing or busying themselves with jobs on board.  I watched as boats negotiated the locks, by now I think I would be able to navigate these canals.

The guide book said leave the canal at the ornate bridge…   This took me into the village of Salt, I had promised myself a pint and sandwich in The Hollybush Inn, one of the oldest pubs in the country. Alas, it was closed. An appointed caretaker has been here since last July 2020 keeping an eye on the place. He was sat outside and pleased to chat, but there was no offer of a brew, even when I expressed my disappointment.     There followed a bit of hilly walking and wandering through large fields to come out in a crop being harvested on the edge of an MOD property. The incongruous memorial behind bars told the story of the Battle of Hopton Heath, fought here in 1643 between Royalists and Parliamentarians.    The entry into Hopton  through sandstone cuttings was promising, but the village was mainly modern bungalows.

  My way onwards to Beacon Hill was obvious and the hill promised views to The Wrekin and Cannock Chase. All I got was the approaching dark rain clouds over Stafford..  I’d had no rain all week, but ended up donning waterproofs for the last mile or so through the streets of Stafford. By the time I reached the centre, it was dry. St. Mary’s church was much better cared for compared to Stoke Minster, but unfortunately was closed. The foundations of an earlier Pre-Norman church can be seen  in front of the church.

  The narrow lane leading to the high street passed the largest wooden framed town house in England. Shame they can’t spell ‘phone’    Next door was my comfortable hotel, The Swan an old coaching inn, and opposite was the oldest building in Stafford, St. Chad’s Church,1150. In its grounds was the base of a Medieval stone cross.

*****

DAY FIVE ON THE TWO SAINTS WAY.

Stoke-on-Trent to Stone.     13.5 miles.

  A long day.

Having slept in I crept out of my Airbnb at 9am, nobody else was up. My first priority was to find breakfast. By the station, all the cafés and bars were busy with football supporters topping up their alcohol levels before travelling to Birmingham for a derby match. I found a popular little café near the Cathedral where I had another oatcake, this time with an egg filling.

The Cathedral was large and imposing, but with rather run down grounds, it was not open. The present church is from the 19th century. In the graveyard is a Saxon cross from the earliest 8th century church. The cross has fine carvings, which may be the origin of  The Staffordshire Knot emblem. Another church was built in Norman times and its arches survive in the graveyard. Apparently inside the Cathedral is a memorial to Josiah Wedgwood and also to Stanley Matthews the footballer. I found the graves of Spode and Wedgwood. Time to move on.

The canal was regained for a few miles to get me out of Stoke. A typical stretch of urban towpath but well-used by joggers and cyclists. Somehow, I walked past the Britannia Football Stadium without noticing it, its new name is the awful Bet365 Stadium. I did however spot the sign on the marina — line dancing?

I cut through the backstreets of Trentham and arrived at the entrance to Trentham Gardens, a very popular family destination, I did not have time to visit the Gardens, but I called at their café for my mid-morning brew. Shopping seemed to be the main attraction.

After crossing the River Trent, I passed by an old courtyard, the original entrance to the estate. It seemed a shame it was going to ruin. Across the road was a modern courtyard development  modelled on it giving no doubt very expensive accommodation.

A little church, St Mary’s, was tucked away on the edge of the gardens. In the graveyard was a Saxon cross with  a well-worn Kneeling stone at its base. Pilgrims would have prayed here for centuries.

A steep track led up the hillside into King Woods on a ridge, all part of medieval hunting grounds. Down below, traffic crawled along the M6 on the stretch I broke down on last week, that’s another story. I couldn’t miss the football ground from up here. Despite all the cars and crowds below at Trentham, I was the only person walking along the airy ridge. I was surprised then when I came across a Colditz type wire fenced enclosure. Apparently this is The Monkey Forest, one of the Trentham attractions which must have cost millions to construct. There was no sign of the Barbary Apes that live in there, but I hadn’t paid my entrance fee.

Farther on, I could hear excited voices in the woods and again I was surprised to come across an aerial assault course, the Trentham people certainly know how to extract money from visitors.

I made my own assault of the hill in front of me to come out into the open at the 1st Duke of Sutherland’s statue. His statue was erected here in 1836 as an indication of his service to the local populace. This popularity didn’t extend to his time in the highlands, where he was responsible for much of the Highland Clearances and was hated by the Scots for evermore. His statue on Ben Bhraggie has been threatened with  demolition on many occasions. There were good views down over Trentham Gardens with its lake and the Stoke area in general, and quite a few people had come up here for that reason. (heading photo)

At the bottom of the hill was the little village of Tittensor with the church of St. Luke’s in the middle of a housing estate. It had an attractive timbered tower, a Duchess of Sutherland foundation stone, a bench for refreshments and the now familiar TSW interpretation board.

There was a very pleasant stretch over Tittensor Chase’s sandy heathland. Just visible in the high bracken were a Saxon burial mound and a much larger hill fort, Bury Bank,  which at one time was the capital of Mercia and probably the birthplace of St. Werburgh, a then princess, to  King Wulfhere. This family has gone into folklore from the ‘fact’ that Wulfhere killed two of his sons, Wulfad and Rufin. Read the full story involving St. Chad  here.

Tittensor Chase.

Saxon mound.

Bury Bank, ancient fort ahead.

Then I was back on the Trent and Mersey canal towpath for a mile into Stone. The town makes much of the legend mentioned above. The main street looks similar to many other pedestrianised town centres with its Costa Coffee, Wethespoons, Mountain Warehouse etc.

The St. Michael’s Church was built in 1758 in the grounds of a previous Augustinian Priory, where there was a shrine to St. Wulfad, who was supposed to be buried here under a pile of stones. Today the church was closed so I couldn’t view the stained-glass window dedicated to Wulfad and Rufin. In the grounds was a family Mausoleum of Earl Vincent,  an admiral in the time of Lord  Nelson and a Crompton grave.

Vincent Mausoleum.

Crompton family C17th tomb.

My hotel for the night was out of town. On the way I stopped at a garage to buy some milk and in conversation with the attendant found he had some involvement with the church back in Tittensor. He is doing the Two Saints Way in day sections, we compared experiences, a strange meeting. My hotel, Stone House, was the best of the trip yet.- a sumptuous bath and an excellent Indian restaurant.

*****

DAY FOUR ON THE TWO SAINTS WAY.

Barthomley to Stoke-on-Trent.     12 miles.

  I think I was still in shock this morning, I emptied the coffee sachet into the bin rather than my cup and then I used my asthma spray on my armpits. What more could go wrong?

The advantage of the taxi back to Barthomley was I didn’t have to face that busy road again. The driver was Turkish and on the way I got his life history. He lives in Alderley Edge because that has more say with the girls on dating sites than Crewe would have.      He made out he was also a football agent and told me to look out for an up and coming star at Liverpool – Harvey Elliott.

I’ve inserted an extra heel pad into my right boot.

Well signed and stiled field paths took me south from Barthomley, heading for a valley which the guide book author rated as one of the most scenic stretches on the way. Mill Dale. I wasn’t  that impressed. Once I had found the path down into the valley, I felt hemmed in by fencing. I would have liked to wander by the water. Yes, there were good stretches of water in the distance, but I seemed separated from the reality. This was reinforced at the end near houses where the way ahead was obscured, deliberately? I made my way up into fields above the valley.

I crossed what must have been the M6 and then started climbing a small hill with views back to the Cheshire Plain, Mow Cop to the northeast and then down to villages with a monument to Wedgwood prominent on Bignall Hill behind. I assumed it to be for Josiah Wedgwood of ceramics and pottery fame, but I find out later it is a John Wedgwood, 1760-1839, a local coal mine owner and employer. Within a few hundred yards, the scenery has changed – gentle Cheshire to grittier Staffordshire.

Audley is the first village I come to with a welcome little bakery where I can sit outside in the sun and enjoy a coffee and cheese slice. Naughty but nice.  The route winds its way between villages using green areas which in the past have been a hive of industrial activity. The area was rich in coal, ores and clay. First Leddy’s Field reserve and then the much larger Apedale Country Park. I meet three walkers who lived around here as children and can remember the pits and railways. They are having a nostalgic meet up.

Leaving Leddy’s field.

‘Last of the summer wine’

Apedale.

Walking along the old railway, I make good progress. A park warden tells me of the problems they have had during lockdown with bad parking and litter. They were reduced to a skeleton staff who spent most of the time dealing with the nuisances and now are way behind with their general work. He is a keen walker, having completed many long distance paths, and is proud that the Two Saints Way comes through his patch. In another part of the park there is a heritage centre, museum and narrow gauge railway. Tours of some old mines are possible.

The pit railway.

Nice job!

A steep road, there are a lot of hills today, brings me into Chesterton, an old colliery village, and the outskirts of Stoke. It is urban walking for the rest of the day. The pubs here have closed down, the church has an unkempt appearance and the streets untidy with litter  The café I find specialises in Staffordshire Oatcakes  These are a local delicacy like an oaty pancake, very popular in the Stoke area, I buy one filled with cheese and sit on the steps of the nearby Salvation Army hall to eat it with my coffee. I must look like a tramp.

  An unsavoury park takes me up a hill into the next area of housing where I rely on my phone satnav to navigate me down to the Trent and Mersey Canal.

  The walk along the canal was varied from industrial wastelands to upmarket waterside living. There were reminders of the pottery trade all along the way. I stuck to the canal towpath, whereas the Two Saints Way wandered into the old garden festival site and on to visit the Potteries Museum. I had hoped to see the Staffordshire Saxon Hoard there, but the museum is closed until later in the year, which is a shame.

Best floral display.

Wasteland.

The Round House. Formerly part of the Wedgwood Etruria Pottery works, and built 1769.

I dallied at the junction of the Trent and Mersey with the Caldon Canal. The Etruria Industrial Museum there was closed!

  My Airbnb room in Stoke was not far from the canal in the student area, my hostess is a holistic practitioner and a musician, the house was an oasis of calm. Down the road was an Afghanistan restaurant which served fabulous food, the staff were obviously concerned about their relatives and happenings out there at the moment now under the Taliban. Most won’t be eating as well as I am – Qabuli Pulau.

*****

DAY THREE ON THE TWO SAINTS WAY.

Nantwich to Barthomley.      12 miles.

  I reflect on the temporary healing powers of beer and Brufen as I hobble into Nantwich on a lovely sunny morning. The Church of St. Mary doesn’t open its doors until 10am, so I poke about in the narrow streets with some surprising finds.

Chimney from a wheelwright’s forge and smithy,

The Market Hall.

Good to see it thriving.

Parked up for the day’s shopping.

Immaculate Higgins classic.  I saw the proud owner cycling on quiet lanes later in the day.

  St Mary is an amazing church – cathedral like. You are enthralled as soon as you enter the Nave. Most of the church is C14th, and it is recognised as one of the finest Medieval churches in England.   The splendid, intricately carved Monks stalls with triple canopies and their Misericords grab your attention.     A fine tomb to a Thomas Smith and his wife from the C17th…     …and an effigy of C14th Sir David Cradoc, patron of the church, in alabaster.   A majestic modern stained window depicted life in rural Cheshire, linked into the creation story with Halley’s Comet in the right trefoil, dating it to 1985.    I forgot to look for the several ‘Green Men’ in the church. On the outside there were some fine gargoyles, in the red sandstone.
  At last, I was away and walking through pleasant parks alongside the River Weaver. Dog walkers were in ascendancy – I wonder how long this passion with dogs will last? Nantwich seemed to be a good place to live.

    And then I was in the countryside with well-marked paths leading me on.   I was on my way to Wybunbury, Winbury to you, and I was pleased to find the post office open with coffee and sandwiches available to enjoy on the seat outside. I take every chance I can for a sit down and some caffeine.

  At the end of the village was St. Chad’s tower once a C15th church but now truncated since the demolition of the main part of the church in 1972 due to subsidence. The tower was stabilised in 1832 using methods of under-excavation, later employed to stabilise that leaning tower in Pisa. Apparently it still leans to the north. It is thought that one of the figures at the entrance depicts  St. Chad. A modern St. Chad’s church was passed in the village earlier.

As it was early C20th.

  The path out of the churchyard took me through a wetland reserve and up into horse paddocks with a multitude of stiles, when a simple footpath diversion would have been more sensible.   On the outskirts of Hough I met up with a man and his Springer Spaniel, both as keen as each other on exploring the boggy land in the woods which we traversed. Then it was into fields of tall maize, where you just had to follow a narrow corridor. Somewhere along there I crossed the West Coast mainline, the real one this time. I was glad of a sit down and coffee at the White Lion in Weston. Across the road was the small brick built All Saints’ Church with its unusual semicircular chancel.